LGBTQQ Vocabulary

Why the right words make a difference…

Georgia Safe Schools Coalition recognizes that the importance of choosing the least restrictive language is paramount to maintaining a safe climate, one that is conducive to learning. Such language is consistent with the concept of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), mandated under federal law when discussing Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and PL-142.

In speaking about people from the LGBTQQI&A (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Ally) communities, it is important to recognize that the terms and categories commonly used, across numerous populations and environments, are still developing. There is no uniform way that such acronyms are written; this variation has led to the reference of gay/queer acronyms as “alphabet soup.” To maintain consistency, GSSC uses the acronym LGBTQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning).

Anti-bullying programs routinely require school personnel to address incidents of prejudice and bias, but often lack the vocabulary and understanding of issues related to sexist and anti-LGBT fodder. Whether teasing/bullying is done with malice or without much thought, a lack of response by school personnel is a form of bystander assault that reinforces the message that school is not always a safe place to be. In order to create a more respectful school climate, staff and teachers must be equipped with, and have a working knowledge of, proper use of key terms associated with LGBTQQ youth.

Since verbal assaults are the most common form of bullying, it is critical that there be access to language that can open up dialogue around the harmful use of certain terms.  Sometimes, knowing which words to use can be confusing, however, a best practice is to listen to the terms used by an individual to identify or categorize themselves.  [Note: There may be negative connotations for some words that have been positively reclaimed by some individuals (e.g., “queer”); however, some reclaimed terms are not appropriate for use in the school environment].

The GSSC preferred glossary of terms recommended for use in describing people from the LGBTQQ community will continue to evolve. It is important to recognize that the terms and categories are commonly used – across numerous populations and environments, and are still developing. While there are many LGBT advocacy organizations who offer glossaries, one must carefully examine these resources and their often limiting view, keeping in mind how damaging restrictively asserted language can be. Presumably, there are terms among diverse communities that are not yet listed; we should all keep an ear to the ground as we build our knowledge of vocabulary pertinent to keeping schools a safe and nurturing environment, which is necessary for optimal learning.

Please be advised that GSSC will make revisions and periodic updates of the most appropriate glossary of terms for use in speaking about people from LGBTQQ communities. Contact GSSC as you encounter new terms that you find to be informative, derogatory or least restrictive in relation to describing LGBTQQA individuals/communities. Email Mr. Jesse McNulty, M.Ed. At ; please put GSSC glossary in the subject line.


Below is a quick reference for some of the most commonly used terms in the transgender community. Remember that people defy labels and not everyone will fit into a definition, label or box, no matter how large we make it.

: a system of institutionalized practices and individual actions that benefits able-bodied people over people with disabilities.

biological sex, sex: a term used historically and within the medical field to refer to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female or male.

classism: a system of institutionalized practices and individual actions that benefits people who have wealth and power.

crossdresser: a person who, on occasion, wears clothing associated with another sex, but who does not necessarily desire to change his or her sex. Many crossdressers identify as heterosexual but can have any sexual orientation. 

drag king / drag queen: a performer who wears the clothing associated with another sex, often involving the presentation of exaggerated, stereotypical gender characteristics. The performance of gender by drag queens (males in drag) or drag kings (females in drag) may be art, entertainment and/or parody. 

FTM (female to male), transgender man: terms used to identify a person who was assigned the female sex at birth but who identifies as male. 

gender: a set of social, psychological and emotional traits, often influenced by societal expectations, that classify an individual as feminine, masculine, androgynous or other.

gender binary: the concept that everyone must be one of two genders: man or woman.

gender expression: The outward manifestation of internal gender identity, through clothing, hairstyle, mannerisms and other characteristics. 

gender identity: the inner sense of being a man, a woman, both or neither. Gender identity usually aligns with a person’s sex, but sometimes does not. 

gender dysphoria: an intense, persistent discomfort resulting from the awareness that the sex assigned at birth and the resulting gender role expectations are inappropriate. Some consider gender dysphoria to be a symptom of Gender Identity Disorder, a health condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

Many transgender people do not experience gender dysphoria.

genderqueer: a term used by some people who may or may not identify as transgender, but who identify their gender as somewhere on the continuum beyond the binary male/female gender system.

gender-nonconforming: behaving in a way that does not match social stereotypes about female or male gender, usually through dress or physical appearance. 

gender role: the social expectation of how an individual should act, think and feel, based upon the sex assigned at birth. 

gender transition: the social, psychological and medical process of transitioning from one gender to another. Gender transition is an individualized process and does not involve the same steps for everyone. After gender transition, some people identify simply as men or women.

hormone therapy: administration of hormones and hormonal agents to develop characteristics of a different gender or to block the development of unwanted gender characteristics. Hormone therapy is part of many people’s gender transitions and is safest when prescribed and monitored by a health care professional.

MTF (male to female), transgender woman: terms used to identify a person who was assigned the male sex at birth but who identifies as female. 

oppression: the acts and effects of domination of certain groups in society over others, caused by the combination of prejudice and power. Systems of oppression include racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

post-op, pre-op, non-op: terms used to identify a transgender person’s surgical status. Use of these terms is often considered insulting and offensive. Surgical status is almost never relevant information for anyone except a transgender person’s medical providers.

privilege: social and institutional advantages that dominant groups receive and others do not. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it. 

racism: a system of institutionalized practices and individual actions that benefits white people over people of color.

sex reassignment surgery (SRS): any one of a variety of surgeries involved in the process of transition from one gender to another. Many transgender people will not undergo SRS for health or financial reasons, or because it is not medically necessary for them.

sexism: a system of institutionalized practices and individual actions that benefits men over women.

transgender or trans: an umbrella term used to describe those who challenge social gender norms, including genderqueer people, gender-nonconforming people, transsexuals, crossdressers and so on. People must self-identify as transgender in order for the term to be appropriately used to describe them.

transphobia: the irrational fear of those who challenge gender stereotypes, often expressed as discrimination, harassment and violence.

transsexual: a person who experiences intense, persistent, long-term discomfort with their body and self-image due to the awareness that their assigned sex is inappropriate. Transsexuals may take steps to change their body, gender role and gender expression to align them with their gender identity.

*Reprinted with permission from Lambda Legal

 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network [GLSEN] Terminology

genderism: Related to sexism, but is the systematic belief that people need to conform to the gender role assigned to them based on a gender binary system which includes only female and male. This is a form of institutionalized discrimination as well as individually demonstrated prejudice.

Gender Expression

androgynous: Used to describe a person whose gender expression and/or identity may be neither distinctly female or male, usually based on appearance.

butch: Used to describe people of all genders and sexes who act and dress in stereotypically masculine ways.

femme: Used to describe people of all genders and sexes who act or dress in stereotypically feminine ways.

drag king/drag queen: Wearing the clothing of a gender that one may not often present as, often involving the presentation of exaggerated, stereotypical gender characteristics. Individuals may identify as drag kings (in drag presenting as male) or drag queens (in drag presenting as female) when performing gender as parody, art or entertainment.

Trans Derivatives

transgender (or trans): a term used to describe people who transgress social gender norms; often used as an umbrella term to include transsexual, genderqueer, gender nonconforming or cross-dressers. People must self identify as transgender in order for the term to be appropriately used to describe them.

transsexual: Someone who experiences intense, persistent, long-term discomfort with their body and self-image due to the belief that their assigned gender is inappropriate. Transsexuals may be pre-op, post-op or non-op (op=operative, referring to top and/or bottom surgery) depending on medical and financial circumstances. People must self-identify as transsexual in order for the term to be appropriately used to describe them.

two-spirit: Native Americans who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles found traditionally among many Native Americans and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. Traditionally the roles included wearing the clothing and performing the work of both male and female genders. The term usually implies a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit living in the same body and was coined by contemporary gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Native Americans to describe themselves and the traditional roles they are reclaiming.

Medical Terms

intersex: A person born with an anatomy or a physiology that differs from societal ideals of female or male. Intersex people may be born with “ambiguous genitalia” and/or experience hormone production levels that vary from those of societal “ideal” females and males. While there is some overlap between transgender and intersex communities, intersex is not the same as transgender.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID): A clinical psychological diagnosis, that offends many in transgender communities and is often required to receive medical supervision of treatments relating to transition like hormones or surgery. 

General Terms

sexual orientation: One’s mental, physical and emotional attraction to people of one or more genders, and subsequent interest in physical relationships and/or establishing longterm relationships with select people of that/those gender(s).

zie & hir: The most common spelling for fairly common gender-neutral pronouns. The first is subjective, replacing she or he, and the second possessive and objective, replacing her or his.

From GLSEN’S Jumpstart guide #7 – “Making your Student Club Trans Inclusive”

*Reprinted with permission from GLSEN

Safe Schools Coalition Terminology

ally: A member of a historically more powerful identity group who stands up against bigotry. For example, a man who confronts his friend about harassing women, a Christian who helps paint over a swastika, or a heterosexual person who objects to an anti-gay joke.

coming out: The process of first recognizing and acknowledging non-heterosexual orientation or trans-gender identity to oneself and then sharing it with others.Developmentally, many sexual minority youth will initially erect emotional barriers with acquaintances, friends and family by pretending (actively or through silence) to be heterosexual and congruent. Coming out means dropping the secrecy and pretense and becoming more emotionally integrated. This usually occurs in stages and is a non-linear, lifelong process.

co-parents: Grown-ups who are raising a child together, who may or may not be biologically related to the child. Sometimes refers to the partner of a biological parent. Sometimes refers to both (or all) parents, step-parents, partners and other guardians.

cisgender refers to a person who agrees with the sex and gender assigned to them at birth under heterosexist norms. 

dyke: Pejorative term for a lesbian. Some young women self-identify as dykes, but it is still a slur in many contexts and is generally prohibited in schools with antiharassment policies.

fag, faggot: Pejorative terms for a gay man. As unacceptable at school as racial or religious slurs.

failure-to-report: The crime (a gross misdemeanor, in Washington State) committed by certain professionals who are required by law to contact child protective services and/or law enforcement when they know or suspect that a child or teen has been neglected or physically or sexually assaulted, when they fail to do so.

failure-to-protect: Refers to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause states that all citizens are due equal protection under the law and cannot be discriminated against through selective enforcement. This means that schools are responsible for equally protecting all students. Sexual harassment policies, for instance, must be applied consistently, regardless of a student’s (or an employee’s) gender or race or religion or sexual orientation or gender expression.

heterosexual: Clinical synonym for straight.

homosexual: Clinical synonym for gay.

homophobia: Originally coined to mean, in classic psychological terms, irrational fear of homosexuality. Now refers usually to bias against or dislike of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people or of stereotypically gay/lesbian behavior, or discomfort with one’s own same-sex attractions, or of being perceived as gay or lesbian. A less inflammatory term is anti-gay (as in anti-gay harassment). 

homosexual: Avoid this term; it is clinical, distancing and archaic. Sometimes appropriate in referring to behavior (although same-sex is the preferred adj.). When referring to people, as opposed to behavior, homosexual is considered derogatory and the terms gay and lesbian are preferred, at least in the Northwest. inclusive language: The use of terms such as family or parents/guardians, instead of mother-and-father in a letter about an upcoming open-house. Or of gender-neutral terms (e.g., partner, instead of boyfriend or girlfriend) in a lesson on communication. Terms that allow every child and family to feel they belong at school, including those who are gay or lesbian (as well as children who live with a single parent or grandparents, etc.).

lesbian: Preferred term for gay women. Many lesbians feel invisible when the term gay is used to refer to men and women.

lifestyle: An inaccurate term sometimes used to describe the lives of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Implies that the homes, careers, and relationships of all sexual minorities are identical. There is a GLBT culture, with its own performing arts and body of literature. There is a GLBT community, with gay- and lesbian-identified businesses, publications and holidays. But the degree to which people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender take part in this culture and community varies from not-at-all to almost exclusively. There is no gay lifestyle, just as there is no straight lifestyle.

malicious harassment: Physical injury, damage to property, or threats based on a person’s (real or perceived) sexual orientation; race; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; gender; or mental, physical, or sensory handicap. 

openly gay/lesbian: Preferred over self-avowed or practicing. For example: He is an openly gay principal.

outing: Publicly revealing the sexual orientation or gender identity of someone who has chosen not to share it.

pink triangle: A symbol originally used by the Nazis, who forced gay men to wear pink triangles on their clothing, imprisoned them in concentration camps, and put many thousands of gay men to death. Now, the downward-pointing, equilateral, pink triangle is a symbol of GLBT pride and the struggle for equal rights.

rainbow flag: A flag of six equal horizontal stripes (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and lavender or violet) adopted to signify the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community.

sexual harassment: Any unwanted sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature that alarms or annoys someone, or interferes with someone’s privacy, or creates an intimidating or hostile environment.

sexual minorities: Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

sexual orientation: One’s core sense of the gender(s) of people toward whom one feels romantically and sexually attracted. The inclination or capacity to develop intimate emotional and sexual relationships with people of the same gender, a different gender or more than one gender. Doesn’t presume sexual experience/activity (i.e., sexual minority people are as capable as heterosexual people of choosing to abstain). To some degree, the qualities one finds attractive may be learned, probably in the first few years of life. There is growing evidence that people may be, however, biologically (hormonally, genetically) predisposed to be more attracted to one gender or another or to people of more than one gender. In all instances, use this instead of sexual preference or other misleading terminology.

sexual preference: Avoid this term; it implies a casual choice, which is rarely if ever the case. Sexual orientation is the correct term.

sissy: Pejorative term for a gay man or a man who doesn’t fit masculine gender role stereotypes. As unacceptable at school as racial or religious slurs.

stonewall: The Stonewall Inn tavern in New York City’s Greenwich Village was the site of several nights of rioting/rebellion following a police raid on June 28, 1969. Although not the nation’s first gay-rights demonstration, Stonewall is now regarded as the birth of the modern gay-rights movement.

straight: Heterosexual; non-gay. Term preferred by some straight people as less clinical and formal than heterosexual, but some dislike it because it gets confused with not using drugs or with being a rigid person. Some GLBT people object to it as implying that they must be, in contrast, bent.

*Reprinted with permission from Safe Schools Coalition

New York University, Office of LGBT Student Services Terminology

closet: Used as slang for the state of not publicizing one’s sexual identity, keeping it private, living an outwardly heterosexual life while identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender, or not being forthcoming about one’s identity. At times, being in the closet also means not wanting to admit one’s sexual identity to oneself.

coming out:To disclose one’s own sexual identity or gender identity. It can mean telling others or it can refer to the time when a person comes out to him/herself by discovering or admitting that their sexual or gender identity is not what was previously assumed. Some people think of coming out as a larger system of oppression of LGBT people- that an LGBT person needs to come out at all shows that everyone is presumed heterosexual until demonstrated otherwise. But this word need not apply only to the LGBT community. In some situations, a heterosexual may feel the need to come out about their identity as well.

heterosexism: The individual person, group, or institutional norms and behaviors that result from the assumption that all people are heterosexual. The system of oppression, which assumes that heterosexuality is inherently normal and superior, negates LBGT peoples’ lives and relationships.

heterosexual: A person (male or female) who has significant sexual and or romantic attractions to primarily members of the other sex.

homophobia: The fear and hatred of or the discomfort with people who love and sexually desire members of the same sex. Homophobic reactions often lead to intolerance, bigotry, and violence against anyone not acting within heterosexual norms. Because most LGBT people are raised in the same society as heterosexuals, they learn the same beliefs and stereotypes prevalent in the dominant society, leading to a phenomenon known as “internalized homophobia.”

homosexual: The formal or clinical term that was coined in the field of psychology, sometimes meaning only “gay male,” but at times encompasses lesbians and occasionally bisexuals. The word is often associated with the proposition that same sex attractions are a mental disorder, and is therefore distasteful to some people.

queer: Originally a derogatory slur, it has recently been reclaimed by some to be an inclusive word for all of those within the sexual minority community. Because of the original derogatory nature of the word, it is not necessarily accepted by all.

*Reprinted with permission from NYU, Office of LGBT Student Services

Additional terms:

affirming sex: the action of others in showing respect for an individuals’ declared sex; using affirming language in alignment is the largest part. Examples include using the persons’ chosen name and declared pronouns- regardless of an individuals’ transitional medical/legal status/identity.

ag/aggressive/stud: synonymous with a butch lesbian identity; more often these terms are used to describe a Black or Latina lesbian with a very masculine gender presentation. Though they are often read as boys or men, they do not usually identify as male.

bisexual: emotionally and sexually attracted to some people of other [typically stated as “both”] genders. Does not presume non-monogamy or any sexual activity, necessarily. Some people self-identify as bi, rather than bisexual.

cisgender: a term to describe a person who identifies with the gender or sex they were assigned at birth

feminist: a term that infers objection to the differentiated treatment of people based on perceived or assigned sex—typically, people associate the term with women’s rights; however, all people suffer under gendered oppressive expectations.

gay: A man who has significant sexual and/or emotional attractions to some other men, or who identifies as a member of the gay community. “Gay” is often used as an umbrella term to refer to all people who have their primary sexual and or emotional attractions to people of the same sex. [Lesbians and bisexuals may feel excluded bythis word—similarly as do women, when the term mankind is used to describe all people—regardless of sex].

gender fluid: a term used to describe people who are not locked into a specific category of gender expression or identity.

gender variant: a term used by some people to describe a lack of adherence to gendered expectations of their assigned birth sex.

intersex: a term used to describe a person born with anatomical or chromosomal variance from culturally ideal norms; differing from medical and scientific data used to define female and male. [hermaphrodite: an outdated term that was used to describe people with intersex persons. It is now considered derogatory, unless claimed by an individual with an people with DSDs [disorders of sex development]. [For the most current information on intersex variations and the struggles they face, visit or]

lesbian: A woman who has significant sexual and/or emotional attractions to other women, or who identifies as a member of the lesbian community. Bisexual women may or may not identify with this term.

LGBTQQA: an acronym that is used to describe persons who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, or Allied to the above communities. [Sometimes “I” will appear in the acronym; however, many people who identify with the term intersex object to the practice, as they often see their situation as largely physical/medical. Some transsexual identified people feel this way, as well].

passing: a term used to describe the ability of a trans person to express their gender identity undetected; they typically blend into the dominant view of how a typical man or woman should look.

questioning: a term used to describe a person who is exploring their sexual orientation, gender expression, or the values they have absorbed from dominant heterosexist culture.

no-ho: a term used to describe a transexual person who chooses not to enhance their hormones with estrogen or testosterone.

safe zone: an area that is tuned in to peace-keeping and respectful treatment of people, regardless of personal bias. A safe zone acknowledges that oppression, in all forms, exists and must be challenged- first by creating a climate where one can expect to be free of harassment. Next, having the ability to report incidence of LGBT and other bias harassment to caring adults who will enforce the safe zone.

safe zone sticker: designed as a proactive and visible sign of support for LGBTQQA persons who deserve to feel safe at school. The sticker is recommended for use as a reminder to both show respect for students and to expect reinforcement from school personnel. Ultimately, the stickers would be best placed throughout the school, following a related in-service, which teaches adults proper enforcement of safe zones as related to LGBT, and among intersecting oppressions. [Sexism, racism, ableism, etc…]

social transition: the point at which an individual takes action to inform others of their declared sex ; this may include outward changes in appearance, as well as a change from assigned name and/or pronouns. [Here, supportive members of the individual’s communities [allies] assist by affirming the declared sex by adjusting to changes in verbiage and assist in accessing public services and facilities].

medical transition: the point at which the medical community is informed of an individuals’ transgender status and assists in accessing and monitoring interventions; these may include changes in documentation [using affirmed sex verbiage], psychosocial, and physical [body modifying].

transition: Not a single event—a life-long process, most often refers to the period of time when a transgender person begins to assert their gender, which may include any combination of the following: alterations to dress, name changes, changing pronouns, hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgeries. Not all trans people want nor have access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery. Some transgender people identify only as a man or as a woman- having had transgender experience.